Skepticism | ‘Ordeal’
Skepticism, along with fellow Finns Thergothon, are regarded as the daddiess of one of metal’s most obscure sub-genres – funeral doom.
With ‘Ordeal’, the band’s fifth full length, it’s apparent that they have no desire to alter their formula.
Thus, ‘You’ crawls to crepuscular life under the weight of somnolent organs, setting the stage as it were, for the following one hour and seventeen minutes.
The prospect of sitting down for over an hour of slow, miserable doom death would be harrowing for the hardiest of metal fans but, then, Skepticism are no ordinary funeral doom band.
True, their songs epitomise the style with their slow heaviness and dour outlook, but there is so much more at play across a typical Skepticism record than you will find across an entire genre populated by vino-quaffing, frilly gothmetallers.
Namely, the band know how to write a song; a movement, without being too pretentious about it.
As such, ‘You’ segues into ‘Momentary’ and we are taken into the band’s sad, reflective world, and are led on a riveting journey through dark times, hard realities and an endless road of self-questioning.
The album’s lead track, ‘The Departure’, really is something else.
Roaring into life it soon stops dead, the guitars erased, replaced with a simple hypnotic organ piece. New avenues navigated and explored, new worlds unraveled. The song is a monument. It just grows before you, towering, to leave you in awe, drained.
The way the drums jump into an entirely new pattern gets me every time. No fills, no rolls, just sudden changes in direction. Perhaps it’s the production that drags the drumming to the fore this time rather than any departure in technique or style but Lasse Pelkonen’s performance really shines.
His less-is-more approach is understated to say the least, and the fact that there are no frills added heightens the impact when he does actually strike.
Lyrical themes run over familiar ground but are shone in a new light by Matti Tilaeus’s understated yet rich, evocative verses.
I’m not sure what it is about English as construed by the Finnish mind but it often cuts through more clearly, the thought stripped down and rendered sharper for the economical use of language.
‘Ink on the paper in scruffy lines
Markings leading nowhere
I can hear the roots of trees growing deep under my feet
I can feel the sky falling down from where it used to be
I can see the stars becoming dim and the darkness of the sky
Should I merge these lines or just let them die’
We get simple ideas elegantly executed and, most importantly, delivered with passion.
Every thought seems to have been bleached to the bones and the words hit home all the more strongly for it.
Naturally, this is only ever enhanced by powerful and highly emotional music.
There is a sincerity to the lyrics, the sense that the journey the band set out on in the past is pretty much still the same one they are on today. Musically and lyrically there has been growth, of course.
It is only natural that as one reflects on a life unfolding, maturity and experience will leave a mark, and that is absolutely evident across this record.
Which leads me nicely into possibly the finest song here (although it is hard to choose), ‘The Road’. It is raw, heavy and so bloody catchy and has some of the most thought-provoking lyrics.
When we hear Tilaeus bellow the words ‘Am I past the ordeal, have I lost a soul’ we feel it. It hits home.
His introspection is our introspection.
And the song is just so well written. Simple, beautiful melodies soar out of the organ as the guitar and drums chops the remaining space into ever new and interesting patterns.
This is how funeral doom should sound- not bloated, boring riffs with ‘atmospheric’ organ sounds limping along behind them and bland, woe is me guff masquerading as introspection. It should sound exultant. It should really rip out your heart and lift you off your feet.
The final piece, aptly titled ‘Closing Music’, changes things slightly with Tilaeus trading in his low, steady growl for a more tortured yell as he depicts hearing the revelry going on above him as his body is lowered into the ground.
‘Sound of the sand
Like summer rain
On a tin roof
With the sand
The music becomes distant
And almost too soon
There is only silence’
That final word delivered alone as the music abrubtly cuts off, it ends.
It’s those little details that really help raise this to a work of genius. The craft and care that has so clearly gone in to making this whole thing work and flow as one focused riveting piece is astounding.
That the entire album was recorded in one go in front of a live audience is really impressive. Imagine the planning. With that in mind it is important to note that the production is more up-front and rough around the edges than anything fans will be used to from the band.
However, what it really goes to illustrate is just how strong the songs are. They don’t need studio trickery, that sense of muffled distance that has been a part of the band’s identity for so long, to evoke the funereal atmosphere that is their trademark- it’s tightly woven into every facet of the band’s sound anyway.
A Touch Of Humanity
A few mistakes are audible here and there but the power and passion of the performance render them insignificant. You could even argue that the added touches of humanity actually work to enhance the overall feeling of the songs. Whatever, they are a non-issue for me.
The album is rounded out with two of the band’s hits, namely ‘Pouring’ and ‘The March and the Stream’, which are nice renditions but should be taken separately from the body of new material here.
The artwork is simple and striking and captures the tone of the album perfectly and the finish on the vinyl/DVD edition is just immaculate.
And that album title. It’s so simple, it says everything about this record that you need to know. It won’t be easy, it may well challenge you, but in the end it will only leave you stronger.
An exquisite experience.
5/5 – Andrew Cunningham ::: 01/03/2016